For a number of years, the Bro-Copywriters and Bro-Marketers have ruled the online world. They’ve done their split testing, often ignoring any validation issues such as size of sample or control variables and there can be no discussion. They know they are right because the quantitative data tells them so and talking to people? Nah, it’s not their style.
These are tried and tested methods that have worked for decades. Many of them have a basis within psychology. They work. They are also rooted in what I would term as masculine energy – testosterone driven sales.
Sales over customer experience.
Logic over feelings.
But what they don’t want you to know is that it’s all about to change. The world has seen rapid progress and these old school copywriting just aren’t going to cut it in the future.
The Dark Secret I Was Hiding
At the beginning of the year, I wouldn’t have dared to say any of this. I was a content and copywriter who took a different approach. But it was my dark secret.
At times it made me feel like a fraud – I couldn’t be a real copywriter if I wasn’t willing to lay my values to the side and go all out, using every trick in the book to get those sales. But I just wasn’t prepared to do business in this way.
Fearing a backlash at my ideas, I kept quiet, not even admitting to myself what I was doing differently.
But at the beginning of the year, I had done that cliche thing of setting a word for the year. “Lead”. I told myself this would be the year I would be brave enough to step up and step out.
Easy to say. Not so easy to do.
Then, in a discussion around leading in your industry I was asked the question, “what are you doing to disrupt your industry?” It made me confront what I had been avoiding. I wrote a list of ways in which I was different and looking at it, I felt proud.
I knew it was time to start speaking up but didn’t get further than tiptoeing into the waters before it all felt too scary. Too “out there”.
Not long after, I started reading Brene Brown’s latest book, Dare to Lead. I didn’t expect to find so many parallels between her views on leadership and mine on copywriting.
Words she used to describe “armoured leadership” were ones that also fitted with the bro-copywriting mentality. And there, in her descriptions of “daring leadership” were words that aligned with what I was terming “intelligent copy”.
A researcher, who has studied thousands of pieces of research, was drawing conclusions that validated my own thoughts. It was time to start finding my voice. To start “daring”. To “roar”.
Armoured Leadership & Bro-Copywriting
But what are these words that described armoured leadership and bro-copywriting? What is it that we can learn about copywriting from Brene Brown’s book? There’s not room here to cover every point, but below is a selection of a few of those phrases and how I see them relating to traditional copywriting.
“Working from scarcity”
Creating scarcity has long been one of the tenants of copywriting. If it doesn’t exist, you’re told to create it. How many sales pages have you clicked on, or emails have you opened, that tell you that this offer is only available until Friday? Or that there are only 7 spaces available?
It works on the “fear of missing out” principle.It incentivises people to take immediate action rather than leaving it until later. Some people link FOMO with our psychological need to “belong”. When we see that something is scarce, we want to grab hold of it straight away so we can feel a part of it and not be left out in the cold.
Whatever, the psychological reasoning, scarcity stops people thinking through their decision and encourages impulse buying. A study into impulse buying in the UK has found that 42.5% of those buying on impulse have been left with feelings of regret, without enough money for essentials or have had a row with their family about it.
Yes, scarcity works, but at what expense? And is this what we want for our businesses?
Sounds horrible, doesn’t it? Yet, it’s something that is regularly done in copywriting. If you’ve read up on how to write copy, you will have seen the phrase “agitate the pain” – in other words, take your ideal client’s fear/pain/problem and make it worse. Weaponise it. If you’ve read Grant Cardone, you’ll need to 10X it too.
Yes, one of the biggest motivators for human beings is “moving away from the pain”. Make the pain big and we’re more likely to take action, i.e. buy the product or service. But does that mean we should behave in this way? That it’s the only way to make sales and be successful?
Is taking someone’s fear and using it against them the way you really want to build your business? No.
And yet, it’s standard practice in copywriting. Its basis in psychology has meant that it has worked. However, is this how we want to behave towards our potential customers? And is it going to continue working in copywriting in the future? More on that later.
“Driving perfectionism and fostering fear of failure”
While also weaponising fear, traditional copywriting teaches that we should make clear the disaster that will follow should they not buy the product or service.
We’re taught to explain why the thing we’re selling is the only possible solution, to describe the failure that will come with not buying and how that failure should be avoided at all costs. And that’s before we get to the “you can’t afford not to buy it” and the “if you can’t afford it, you don’t want it enough. If you really wanted it, you’d find the money” brigade.
Apparently, we shouldn’t worry about whether someone is taking a loan or selling their soul to buy the thing, the only aim is to get more sales.
Alongside that, we should paint a picture of what life will be like after they’ve bought the product or service. In other words, to talk about the “benefits of the benefits” and dreamscape their life.
“Buy my thing and you’ll earn 6 figures overnight and live the laptop lifestyle lazing around on a beach in beautiful sunshine.”
The trouble is that these techniques have been used to death and over exaggerated. Creating a fear of failure and need for perfectionism has damaged some industries in which this type of copy has been prevalent and I see others following.
Why The Days of Bro-Copywriting Are Numbered
Times have changed. Copywriting principles have not.
They’ve adapted to new digital platforms but kept the same techniques. The lauded copywriting techniques have not taken into account that we are now dealing with savvy, intelligent buyers who are used to seeing thousands of pieces of advertising each day. Gone are the days of 10-20 adverts passing our eyes. Audiences now know the tricks and they’re laughing and rolling their eyes.
Okay, not everyone. But there is a shift happening and that’s before we even get to the younger millennials who are even more switched on and are our future customers.
What no one is saying is that we’re just not writing copy fit for the future.
In fact these bro-copywriting trends in front of modern day audiences are already causing problems for businesses. They’re damaging. Audiences have grown wise to what they are doing and are now much more skeptical. Just take the example of where “scarcity” is used to suggest that there’s only a limited number available on a digital download!
They’re fed up of bro-marketers and bro-copywriters treating them like their stupid, of feeling conned and not valued. Then there’s the overpromising and under-delivering that’s become a byproduct of a strive for perfection and a fear of failure. The coaching industry in particular has suffered at the hands of this. And we’re choosing to combine this with the agitated pain that leaves people feeling defeated?
Audiences have now lost trust in businesses and some industries. They’ve been made to feel like a wallet rather than an intelligent person. All because of the copy they’ve read. How much longer do we reckon people will keep pulling out their wallet for this kind of experience?
If you think the change is not happening yet, just speak to a few people in the online world.
Today, people want more. They want to feel good – capable, understood, intelligent.
For me, a new and more intelligent form of copywriting is needed and it’s not just because I think the old way is going to become ineffective. It just feels wrong to treat people in this way and I don’t believe that selling, business and ethics are exclusive from each other.
The other day, I was talking to my 18 year old son about it and when I gave examples of the sort of copywriting that claims to get the best results, he described it as disgusting. His view was that we need more “wholesomeness”.
I agree and I think it’s a great word for describing the intelligent copy I advocate. I want to inspire others to take control and progress, not scare them into buying something that they end up regretting. That seems like a more ethical and sustainable way to build a business, one that’s going to help you build your reputation rather than tear it down.
But how can we be more wholesome and intelligent in our copywriting? Or in Brene Brown’s words, more “daring”?
Daring Leadership & Intelligent Copywriting
The easiest place to start is to think about how you would like to be treated during the sales process. Ask yourself, what you’ve loved reading and what’s made a little bit of vomit appear in your mouth?
It will give you a good starting point. But beyond that there are a few specifics that I would recommend for writing more intelligent and wholesome copy, all of which fit within Brene Brown’s daring leadership framework.
Brene Brown talks about daring leadership being about “power within” rather than “power over”. But how does this appear in copywriting?
I’m a big fan of using storytelling in copy (I’m a literature graduate, after all). One of the biggest mistakes I see people making when using storytelling in their sales copy is that they make themselves the hero.
“The only way to end your misery is to pay me all your money and I will rush in and rescue you from your dire circumstances.”
If you approach copy from the perspective of “power within”, you recognise the power that your ideal client has and empower them to use it. You become “the helper” in the story, simply guiding them on the right path.
“If you want to change your life and find happiness, I can show which direction to take and support you along the way. We can celebrate your success together.”
Make your audience the hero and you the helper. It gives a very different feel to your copy.
It’s time to be kind. Earlier, I asked how you would like to be treated and I’m sure in there somewhere, was the idea of being treated like a decent, intelligent human being.
Rather than emphasising someone’s pain or making them fear failure, show that you understand what it’s like. Even better, show that you’ve been in that kind of place too. In other words, practise empathy.
My ability to get inside another person’s head and empathise has often been described as my super power. However, unlike Super Heroes, it’s a power that I can and do teach to others.The best way to start to understand and empathise is to place yourself in their life for a moment. Writing their diary entry is an excellent and useful exercise.
Accentuating the pain might lead you to write something like:
“You don’t have enough hours in the day. You’re letting your kids down at every turn and your partner wonders if there’s any point to this relationship. You need help if you’re going to keep your family together”.
Whereas when you empathise with your ideal client, it would change to something along these lines:
“You don’t have enough hours in the day and you feel like you’re letting everyone down. You’re not, I promise. But I know what it’s like to forget that it’s own clothes day or school or to think your partner must wonder whether he’ll see you again. But you can give yourself the gift of more time and I can show you how.”
Again, it changes the entire tone. It feels like you give a damn and are there to help. That’s the sort of business an ideal client would fall in love with, not one that increases their pain.
Brene Brown talks about healthy striving rather than perfectionism. She’s right. We need to get real. Honest.
So many people are sick of the over exaggerations and dishonesty they read that they find it refreshing when someone talks with honesty. In your copy, include the real results that your ideal client can expect as well as what it won’t do.
It changes your copy from:
“I’ll show you how to earn six figures a month in just three months”
“A six figure business is not built overnight, despite what others might tell you. It needs the right foundations and systems. And that’s what I can support you with – making sure you have everything in place to build that 6 figure business as quickly as possible.
It’ll still take time and effort though. But if you’re ready to do what it takes, I’m ready to support you.”
It’s more genuine and believable and will earn you the respect you deserve.
Time to Be Daring
It’s time to be daring with our copywriting. We are in a new era which needs copy that will appeal to a much more savvy audience. We need to remember that they are intelligent and treat them as such. We need empathy – feelings over logic, people over sales. It will bring the sales.
In short, write copy that treats your ideal client as a whole and intelligent person, just as you wish to be treated.
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